People speak of Late Chakufwa Chihana and his AFORD party. What happened to Chihana politically and his AFORD after Bakili Muluzi had dangled the 2nd Vice Presidency carrot to him and asked him to join government post 1994 election? It was the beginning of the end of Chihana’s political muscle clout in Malawi. Cross a few borders to Zimbabwe and take a look at Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC party. What has happened to Tsvangirai after Mugabe had lured him into becoming Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 2009 to 2013? He has been relegated to the second division of politics in Zimbabwe and has lost his spark. He no longer commands the same respect among Zimbabweans and he is and on the brink of oblivion from the political scene entirely.
Further up to the east of the continent, we have Raila Odinga, the so-called father of Democracy in Kenya. From the early 1990S, he was a thorn to the KANU-led government and single handedly carried the opposition…up until 2008 when he met Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe and the two foolishly hatched the plot to join their Govts as Prime Ministers. Today Odinga is fast becoming a walking relic of Kenyan politics. The youthful and vibrant Uhuru Kenyatta has craftily made him redundant and irrelevant. Heaven knows if Odinga will rise again and command the same authority as before.
The electorate can be fickle minded and punish self-fulfilling opportunistic and disingenuous politicians. The cases of Chihana, Tsvangirai and Odinga has just rang true in British politics. David Cameron’s conservatives have just won the recent elections with a majority. But the most interesting and perhaps sad story is that of Nick Clegg, the outgoing leader of the Liberal Democracts. Under his leadership, the Lib Dems did exceedingly well in the 2010 general elections and they held the political balance in the House of Commons. Nick Clegg became a household name and man of the moment. Lured by the opportunity to be in Government, the LibDems went into a coalition with the Conservatives, with Clegg as the Deputy Prime Minister. That was the beginning of the end of Nick Clegg. His LibDems would be absolutely bartered in the 2015 elections and Clegg would eventually resign in a matter of hours as leader, politically shattered and humiliated.
So what chances does Atupele Muluzi have of bucking the trend? Is the Malawian political landscape any different today from that of Chihana’s time or Kenya, Zimbabwe and the UK? Or rather, are today’s Malawians different from voters in other countries when it comes to holding their leaders to account? Do Malawians ever feel betrayed when leaders such as Atupele appear to abandon their principals in search of instant personal glory and short term self-fulfilling opportunities? Would they vote for Atupele Muluzi and his UDF in 2019 (assuming that by that time the party would still be in existence and he would like to stand as a presidential candidate)?
Towards the twilight years of late Prof Bingu wa Muthariaka’s rule, Atupele Muluzi was everything that a young leader must be. Under the banner of his now defunct Agenda for Change, he was a breath of fresh air and a beacon of hope to many Malawian youth who would be voting for the first time in the 2014 General Elections. He was brave, tenacious and hell bent on challenging the authoritarian rule of late Bingu. Together with CSO leaders, he rallied the masses and captured the nation’s imagination. He was admired by friends and foes alike. Terrified of the danger the young Muluzi posed to the DPP ruling regime, Bingu and his cohorts unleashed a carefully targeted anarchy to anyone who rocked their boat. Atupele and other leaders of CSOs were arrested, which ended with him being admitted at the Mwaiwathu hospital for tension related illnesses. It now appeared that he was unstoppable and a political force to reckon with. He went on to run a fine campaign, drawing tens of thousands of people to his rallies. The people dubbed him “ung’ono ung’ono” or “ukiti ukiti”. He was being compared to Obama. His youthfulness forced his opposing political parties to feature young presidential running mates. Despite this momentum, he went on to lose the elections and what happened next surprised many of his supporters.
Atupele and his UDF party went on to join the very same DPP government which had tortured him and many Malawians, with its political machinery intact, apart from that this time it was under the leadership of late Bingu’s brother, Prof Arthur Peter Mutharika.He shelved his Agenda for Change banner and was quick to be hug and smile with the young Mutharika and the DPP machinery. Today Atupele cuts a strangely muted, inconsequential, lame duck figure. He appears to have lost the fire in his belly. The “sweetness” of power has subdued him. He is no longer the people-centred, hope-oozing firebrand Young Turk of a few years ago. He doesn’t speak on crucial issues that Malawians are worried of, such as the ongoing daylight robbery of selling the Malawi Savings Bank and DPP’s impudence to use tax payers money to underwrite the banks loans, most of which are held by Mulli who happens to be a DPP stalwart.
As a final nail on the coffin, he has just moved his MPs in parliament to the government side, rendering them completely useless as an opposition block. To put it simply, Atupele and his UDF has been a disaster and a complete let down. His has been a failure of epic proportions, and only time will tell if he will rise again to command the same following and capture the nation’s respect, admiration and imagination as he once did. One wonders if this could be the beginning of the end of the so-called Muluzi dynasty.
Are Malawians about to witness a Chihana effect or Tsvangirai or Odinga moment? Let us all wait and see.